1 - Lucinda Williams – Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone (9-29-14) - Lucinda Williams secured the top spot by delivering an album that raises the bar for her own career. She upped the ante on her trademark vocals on Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone, dipping, diving and growling in a wider range, comfortably wearing the skin of her characters for both the joys and defeats. The deeper emotion in the vocal leaves no scar closed or dark corners unlit.
2 -John Fullbright – Songs (5-27-14) - On his second album, John Fullbright is the singer and songwriter for Songs; he is also the director, the set designer, the story editor, always the guy with clear observations, and sometimes the lead character. He is a one-man production company performing many roles to present a complete piece of art for each of his Songs. Tension and comfort are both accounted for with well-placed notes and gently plucked strings, coaxing texture and tone from ivory keys; John Fullbright is a master craftsmen constructing with notes, words, and heart.
3 - Shovels and Rope – Swimmin’ Time (8-25-14) - Shovels and Rope are audio magicians, baring the sharp teeth of Alternative Rock guitar chords that rip back the curtains to show lives on stage that maneuver around some major potholes in the world we live in.
4 - Girls, Guns & Glory – from the album Good Luck (1-28-14) - Girls, Guns and Glory have steadily built their music on four solid album releases, each showing a band growing by marking what they were got right to stretch more ‘right’ out with each note. Vocalist Ward Hayden is a smooth crooner who maintains a cool innocence in both his persona and delivery. Guitarist Chris Hersch is no guitar god but he is the guy that those gods secretly watch to knick his riffs. Chris’ guitar, and banjo, work are subtle yet all-consuming.
5 - Robert Ellis – The Lights from the Chemical Plant (2-11-14) - Robert Ellis slithers in and proclaims that wrong makes right when you have “Good Intentions”. His personal relationships can work out the truth in his words as much as listeners appreciated the goals he set and achieved on his 2014 release. Robert Ellis blends roots, rock, folk and jazz that shine brilliantly in the songs basking in the glow of The Lights from the Chemical Plant.
6 - Hard Working Americans - Hard Working Americans (1-21-14) - Hard Working Americans is Todd Snider, Widespread Panic bassist Dave Schools, Ryan Adams/Chris Robinson guitarist Neal Casal, Great American Taxi keyboardist Chad Staehly and King Lincoln drummer Duane Trucks (brother of guitarist Derek Trucks and nephew of Allman Brothers drummer Butch Trucks). Hard Working Americans takes on all comers with their smoking version of Hayes Carll’s “Stomp and Holler”, the Salvation Army pound of Randy Newman’s “Mr. President”, and their honest recollection of the Kevn Kinney tune from his band Drivin’ n Cryin’, “Straight to Hell”.
7 -Hurray for the Riff Raff – Small Town Heroes (1-11-14) - Alynda Lee Segarra, as Hurray for the Riff Raff, delivers the band’s most recent release, Small Town Heroes. The New Orleans music community gets a high five for creating an environment that allows Alynda’s natural talents to nurture her own musical paths. She uses familiar sounds and presents them as an Indie rock’n’roll stew of folk, blues, Americana music foundations for stories that use sharp edged electric blues to chronicle street life up close (“St. Roch Blues”) and barnstorm the river front (“End of the Line”).
8- Mary Gauthier – Trouble and Love (6-10-14) - Night and day, leather and lace, big and small; all extremes brought together by on little word…and. The same extremities are reached in love. The meeting and the leaving, tied together with another little word…over. It may seem a linear path that goes from beginning to end yet on her latest album release, Trouble and Love, Mary Gauthier offers a completed circle. The album is a personal record, from first kiss to the closing door. It might seem like a second person accounting as the story of Mary Gauthier the human is related by Mary Gauthier the songwriter, yet the emotions stay raw, the lessons so fresh that an outer edge of red can still faintly catch the light. The questions that storm our heads looking for answers when love exits the building all find themselves in the songs on Trouble and Love.
9 - Mike Farris – Shine on All the People (9-16-14) - Mike Farris brought the sound of his mission to more ears in 2014. Mike feels it is his calling to expose the music of turn-of-the-century black spirituals into today’s mainstream market. Shine on All the People raises the roof with Gospel Roots, blending spirituals with contemporary sounds of the spirit from Mike Farris and Mary Gauthier.
10 - Joe Louis Walker – Hornet’s Nest (1-25-14) - Hornet’s Nestis his latest release for Alligator Records, following his blast of a debut for the label, Hellfire, and joining the ranks of over twenty career albums. Hornet’s Nest carries Blues wisdom, Soul seduction and Rock assaults throughout its dozen tracks. “Ramblin’ Soul” is a good example of the mix, though do not believe the title of the track. This soul never rambles, it is on a mission and as it exits its time on the album, the boys in the band tear a hole in the known universe with one kickass boogie blues jam.
11 - Paul Thorn – Too Blessed to Be Stressed (8-19-14) - Paul Thorn has talked about his history as the son of a preacher and the nephew of a pimp. The angel and devil settle on his broad shoulders to take a breather as they follow the album rules on Too Blessed to be Stressed. Joy and inspiration take to the dance floor as the Paul Thorn Band raise a mighty ruckus of Rock ‘n’ Soul.
12 - Justin Townes Earle – Single Mothers (9-9-14) - Justin Townes Earle released a Part One for his double album release with Single Mothers, choosing to let the album settle before starting the second act, to be released as Absent Fathers in early 2015. JTE sings form the side of the one being left behind without ever becoming a love lost victim.
13 - Old Crow Medicine Show – Remedy (7-1-14) - Old Crow Medicine Show received another partially-written track from Bob Dylan. It must be good for Bob to know he always has alternatives to finishing a tune once his muse has left the building. The album, like the band’s live show, are created for maximum entertainment, brought to you by multiple flashing fingers and one mind for music.
14 -The Howlin’ Brothers – Trouble (1-13-14) - The Howlin’ Brothers need no intro for the advanced state of bluegrass that the band serves up. Their recent release, Trouble, follows full studio effort Howl and E.P., the Muscle Shoals Sessions, in a little over twelve months’ time. Trouble opens with the sound of salvation. The Howlin’ Brothers are glory bound, though it is not religion or fear of heaven that fuels “Pour I Down” but a different sort of spirit. The song is the firing gun that opens the gate for thirteen tracks to gallop into Trouble. The album is released on Readymade Records, the imprint of Brendan Benson (solo, The Raconteurs) who handles both production and engineering for The Howlin’ Brothers. Remember when all label heads were completely behind each project.
15- Seth Walker – Sky Still Blues (6-10-14) - Seth Walker is a seeker. Like most musicians, he strives to be better and dig deeper into his music. His songs have that fully formed feel though the borders are never structured. That ease to the playing, the grooves, the interactions of the musicians continues on the recent release, Sky Still Blue. The recording took place at The Wood Brothers’ Nashville-based Southern Ground Studios. Producer Oliver Wood was joined as a musician on Sky Still Blue by fellow Wood Brothers Jano Rix and Chris Wood (also of Medeski, Martin and Wood). Seth’s longtime bandmates fill out the credits with bassist Steve Mackey and drummer Derek Phillips. Sky Still Blue brought Seth Walker back to Nashville, one of the major music meccas that have been as much a part of his music as personal influences and a natural calling.
16 – The Earls of Leicester- The Earls of Leicester (9-16-14) - Jerry Douglas has finally gotten a long lasting with to be a fan and honor the music of Bluegrass heroes (who did not consider themselves a bluegrass band), Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs. The Earls of Leicester stay true to songs origins as the open the windows to let fresh air re-energize Opry standards.
17 - JP Harris and the Tough Choices – Home is Where the Hurt Is (9-23-14) - JP Harris and the Tough Choices created a sweet spot to nurture Country music back to health with Home is Where the Hurt Is. The band proudly play Country music, as it should be played with a rock’n’roll attitude and straight to the heart Soul.
18 – Dave Alvin and Phil Alvin – Common Ground (6-3-14) - Dave Alvin and Phil Alvin - Common Ground: Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin Play and Sing the Songs of Big Bill Broonzy (6-3-14) - It has been close to thirty years since Dave Alvin and brother, Phil Alvin, recorded an album together. One-off songs here and there and the occasional live shows of their shared history with The Blasters have put the brothers together in studio and stage. It was inspiration that took them back in to record for their recent Yep Roc Records release, Common Ground: Dave Alvin + Phil Alvin Play and Sing the Songs of Big Bill Broonzy. Friends don’t stay friends in bands, and in shared blood and you have one volatile working environment in studio or stage. Addressing the unspoken question about how the recording process proceeded, brother Dave said it simply, ‘we argue sometimes, but we never argue about Big Bill Broonzy,’
Listen and buy the music of Common Ground: Dave Alvin + Phil Alvin Play and Sing the Songs of Big Bill Broonzy from AMAZON or iTunes
19 – Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds of Country Music (5-13-14) - Sturgill Simpson grabs a guitar and storms the walls of Country radio with tunes about turtles and Buddha. One more album of authentic Country music for the future and today’s Country stars better start looking for half-empty bottles and checking the ashtray for roaches ‘cause the party will be over.
20 - Rodney Crowell - Tarpaper Sky (4-15-14) - Tarpaper Skyis a reunion as much as recording experience. The recent release from Rodney Crowell gathers most of the players on hand for Rodney’s break-through 1998 album, Diamonds and Dirt. His first recorded in Nashville, the album is often cited as where Rodney Crowell went country…a defensive term for ‘okay, now we get it’ from reviewers. The release never gives up on the best of the songwriting and performances from the man on the cover; this is Rodney Crowell Country and the music comes with classic arrangements and a Rock’n’Roll heart. That theme follows the musicians back into the studio for the recording of Tarpaper Sky. The players brought their old school training and the tracks were recorded live-to-tape. Ideas were traded and the arrangements of the songs developed as a group effort.
21 - Parker Milsap - Parker Milsap (1-4-14) - Parker Millsap spent his formative years as part of a Pentecostal congregation in his native Oklahoma. He no longer follows a religious life but religion follows Parker in his tales. The church, and its teaching, showed him a people that firmly believed in what they were trying to accomplish. The lesson was to look down a little further into what makes people tick, the motivations that push them to suggest a little too strongly, or condemn too quickly, ways of life that do not fit their own. It is a teaching that allows the characters on Parker Millsap to offer themselves without any edit.
22 - Janiva Magness – Original (6-24-14) - Janiva Magness does a great job of showing the many layers of desire and despair set in motion by a single word or action. You feel the love that has gone as something physical while at the same time you can watch spit drip down that unfortunate face that Janiva is in as she asks the last sentence be repeated ‘a little less bitchy please’ in “Who Am I”. The Blues rolls on dark clouds in “With Love” as organ and guitar notes pelt the tune like big fat rain drops and the beat hits the street in “I Need A Man” as Janiva throws off political pressure for pressures of a more personal nature. Janiva Magness has strength and conviction in her delivery, a big part of the appeal of Original.
23 – Calico the band – Rancho California (9-2-14) - Calico the band not only waved the flag for California Country, the planted the pole deep enough to not be moved and flying high enough the state’s Golden Bear to be heard roaring Roots around the globe.
24 -Rosanne Cash - The River and The Thread (1-14-14) - “It’s a big wide world with a million shades of modern blue”. Rosanne Cash sings the line, snagging the Modern Blue for the title to her release. Rosanne, and album producer/arranger John Leventhal, wrote songs as memories of a trip through the Southern U.S. Rosanne Cash still gets an excitement in her voice when speaking about the times she “started going to the south a lot. Re-connecting with people I knew, places I had been, but I started seeing it for the first time, in a strange way; the connection to the soil and the Delta and the music. The veils were taken off something that I thought I knew. It was powerfully inspiring.“ Modern Blue lets musical heritage ride shotgun with Rosanne Cash behind the wheel calling out the sites that pass by the car window.
Listen and buy the music of Rosanne Cash from AMAZON
25 -Candi Staton – Life Happens (5-13-14) - Candi Staton has been a cooking in the soul kitchen for nearly fifty years. Candi was recently featured in the documentary film Muscle Shoals, a must-see movie that lets music tell the history of the city of Muscle Shoals, Fame Recording Studio, and the man that put both on the map, Rick Hall. Personal relations with Candi Staton and Rick Hall date back to the early 1970’s when Rick was in the production chair for Candi’s Grammy nominated hits “Stand By Your Man” and “In the Ghetto”. The tune “I Ain’t Easy to Love” is the lead track from Life Happens, the most recent Candi Staton release, and is featured in Muscle Shoals (the movie). The cut features album guests Jason Isbell and John Paul White (The Civil Wars) on background vocals. The Southern Soul of the song and Candi’s delivery set the bar for quality and begin the saga of love that is that unfolds as Life Happens.
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