The Alternate Root Top 100 Albums of the Year 2015 is ready for viewing. One hundred albums is a large list, though the amount of music and talent in the American Roots community certainly has enough sources to draw from to get to the one hundred mark, and we could have easily gone over. Drawing from the available American Roots styles, we have gathered music from Folk, Blues, Soul, Americana, Alt Country, Bluegrass, Classic Country as well as any and all hybrids. So yeah, one hundred…no problem. Songs and artists from around the country and around the globe, the sound of Roots digs in and reaches out. It is infectious and universal in its moods and melodies. The year 2015 saw new artists and seasoned performers putting out full album listens. Our list for the year honors albums, full album listens from artists. Albums signify a record for musician’s time and art, and we are happy to offer the albums that got our attention, became friends, and are now part of the family in 2015.
76 Ryan Bingham (from the album Fear and Saturday Night 1-20-15) - Ryan Bingham is a singer/songwriter….a Southwest singer/songwriter…and has a knack for walking a line in song that never points a finger back at the man behind the guitar. The story version of a wink and a smile have been as much of a character for Ryan’s tales, and many of those souls can be found walking the tracks of Fear and Saturday Night, his 2015 release. There is a more personal tone to some of the songs, maybe it is the Blues coloring that Ryan Bingham gives the album’s tunes, his first on his indie imprint, Axster Bingham Records.
77 The Lone Bellow (from the album Then Came the Morning 1-27-15) - There is majesty to the music of The Lone Bellow as it surrounds itself with anthemic swells in the sound: horn bursts, soaring strings, and a choir of harmony surrounding a Soul lead vocal that is breaking free of earthly ties. The group has a trio at its heart, Zach Williams, Brian Elmquist, and Kanene Pipkin, who use The Lone Bellow as a vehicle to fulfill the glory of their voices together. The Lone Bellow choose a solid bass bump as the heartbeat that feeds “Fake Roses”.
78 Wilco (from the Album Star Wars on Anti- Records 7-17-15) - Star Wars, the latest Wilco album release, gives one home to the traditions and extremes that have always a part of the band’s music. Wilco have been held up as torch bearers of Alt Country and champions of Post Rock. Both ends of the sound spectrum can be heard on the band’s album output. Star Wars is a family picnic for the song styles that Wilco has created through eight studio album releases, and two Woody Guthrie tributes co-hosted with Billy Bragg.
79 Dawes (from the album All Your Favorite Bands 6-2-15) - Dawes bordered the hills of their California-based debut, North Hills, to Nashville to record at East Nashville’s Woodland Hills Studios for the current, fourth, album release, All Your Favorite Bands. The recording of All Your Favorite Bands keeps their vintage Laurel Canyon sound of west coast folk country that the band always heard in their music, giving it added expansion with Americana echoes and southern sways. All Your Favorite Bands was produced by Dave Rawlings, who adds guitars, and brings in added power with the vocals of the mighty McCrary Sisters and Gillian Welch.
80 Robert Earl Keen (from the album Happy Prisoner: The Bluegrass Sessions 2-10-15) - Robert Earl Keen gets to check another item off his musical “bucket list” and bluegrass fans get to hear 15 classics, reinterpreted in Keen’s own inimitable style. Taking his cue from Del McCoury, Keen offers an enthusiastic, energetic reading of the Richard Thompson ‘s classic “52 Vincent Black Lightning” then continues the ruckus with a rousing reading of Bill Monroe’s “Footprints In The Snow” (one of the first songs Keen remembers hearing when he turned-on to bluegrass as a kid). (Michael Verity)
81 The Mavericks (from the album Mono 2-17-15) - Mono was recorded with few overdubs, Raul Malo’s parts often coming from the tracking vocal recording with no need to go back and re-record. “The Only Question” enters with confidence, each step taken on solid beats. Mono gathers tunes under the musical banner that The Mavericks hold aloft, with Raul Malo’s vocal power carefully steering on tracks over light cha-cha rhythms dancing to the sounds of “Summertime (When I’m with You”), skimming over Country Blues with “What am I Supposed to Do”, putting a quarter into the jukebox for the rock’n’roll of “Stories We Could Tell”, and slowly trudge home on road miles for “Pardon”.
82 Gurf Morlix (from the album Eatin’ at Me 2-3-15) - Gurf Morlix sets a story stage best when he is behind the songs, heading up his own album as producer and player, with Eatin’ At Me ,his 2015 release, being the perfect example. While his voice is the center point in the tunes, Gurf still maintains a distance in the narrator role throughout the stories, sending his characters in search of lost love, or at least a good internet connection (“Grab the Wheel”), walks with giant steps off the grid (“Elephant’s Graveyard”) and slowly switches on the light to find the path between past stumbles and future tripping (“Last Call”).
83 Homesick Hank (from the album Beautiful Life 11-6-15) - The songs of Homesick Hank unfold like morning flowers, opening to greet the world with sad melodies and lyric poetry. Homesick Hank find a peace in the quiet of a song, making that presence a goal for their tracks. Beautiful Life welcomes Mary Gauthier into the studio to join the band on the album track, “Believe”, where delicately layered instrumentation moves through the arrangement like summer clouds making their way across the sky with barely perceptible motion.
84 The Supersuckers (from the album Holdin’ the Bag on Bloodshot Records 10-16-15) - Holdin’ the Bagis the sound track of Punk Country, from the Manhattan’s lower East Side to Nashville’s lower Broadway. The Supersuckers present themselves with decided intentions (“Man on a Mission”), ponder growing old (“All My Rowdy Friends Have Settled Down”), and let the campfire glow hit the harmonica, busking into a trail saga that sweeps desert winds into the title track. They share a microphone, as well as body fluids issues, with Lydia Loveless on the duet of “I Can’t Cry”. Holdin’ the Bag sways the front porch swings “High and Outside”, backs mountain wisdom with mountain music on “That's How It Gets Done”, and takes a seat beside the history of Billy Joe Shaver on his tune “Georgia on a Fast Train”.
85 Shemekia Copeland (from the album Outskirts of Love on Alligator Records 9-11-15) - Shemekia Copeland uses the stage as a pulpit, demanding attention like a preacher standing in front of those already converted and ravenous for the message. Her methods shake foundations and rattle the righteous into action. Outskirts of Love testifies to the ability of Shemekia Copeland to reach right down inside to touch spirits needing a little more saving than platitudes and promises can offer. Her motives are not religious in the traditional sense as Shemekia soul shouts salvation, and wrings a hallelujah from the gospel fuel she pours into Country, Rhythm, and Blues. Outskirts of Love presents Shemekia Copeland wearing audio coats of many colors, guiding each tune with a sound force that rises up from deep inside, pushing limits and coloring outside of the lines as she buries the needle in the red zone.
86 William Elliot Whitmore (from the album Radium Death on Anti- Records 3-31-15) - There are the rare singers and songwriters like William Elliott Whitmore, a poet who has the maturity and self-assuredness to speak of his life and his world with credibility, gusto and veracity. ‘Civilizations,’ is a stomping Folk blues where William Elliot Whitmore becomes a universal citizen, voicing the words who cannot be heard.
87 Darlingside (from the album Birds Say 9-18-15) - When Darlingside merge in harmony, it is the anthemic mix of voices that uses Folk music to champion causes, lead protests, and sing inspiration. Birds Say embraces the breadth of sounds available in Indie Folk with banjo strums intersecting on ethereal chords (“Good for You”), to deliver delicate folk tales on echoey strums and freckled notes (“Clay and Cast Iron”) as Darlingside saddle “White Horses” for a choral trail ride bound for Chicago.
88 Murder by Death (from the album Big Dark Love 2-3-15 on New West Records) - The conditions of the heart find themselves as a theme in Big Dark Love. Murder by Death tackle topics on the subject that skew outside of Hallmark greeting cards. The combination of strings and synths create colors of black and grey, deep swirling clouds that obscure light without ever dimming to the point of nothingness… thick gauze draped over the shining light of hope.
89 Girls Guns Glory (from the album A Tribute to Hank Williams 2-24-15) - It is only fitting that Girls, Guns and Glory chose a New Year’s Eve live setting to tribute Hank Williams. Ward Hayden, lead singer for GGG, recalls that ‘around when I turned 20 and the lyrics started making a whole lot of sense is when it hit me. If you've never had your heart broken then country music can sound like a bunch of twangy gibberish’, Ward got Hank and with Girls Guns and Glory Presents: A Tribute to Hank Williams, he and the boys get it on with Hank.
90 The McCrary Sisters (from the album Let’s Go 3-10-15) - The McCrary Sisters do not lightly share the Let’s Go that they use as an album title and a challenge on their 2015 Buddy Miller-produced album release. The touch that Buddy put on Let’s Go is as subtle as the man himself, yet the results make him an official McSister. There are moments on Let’s Go that reinvent the way you hear gospel music, and other times when the songs remind of days you missed.
91 D.L. Marble (from the album Hard to Quit 9-18-15) - In a history that reads like a hard luck song, D.L. Marble was raised by a single mom while dad spent decades in a Texas prison. He picked up a guitar in high school and life suddenly took on meaning. Hard to Quit faces angels and demons with a background of Indie from multiple sources in Rock, Country, and Folk. “Here’s to You” raises an audio glass full of wishes and memories that will never be fulfilled while “Gringo” regrets every toast from the night before as much as its new tattoo. “Drag Me Back” puts its thumb out for a ride back home for a man and guitar while the title track grabs keys, passport and one last cigarette as D.L. tries once more to exit a messy love affair. Hard to Quit revisits “Sombrero Lullaby” from D.L. Marble’s Not the One debut album, giving the story of an overseas soldier more heft as he sinks into the glow of a jukebox and heads to Mexico on an audio memory.
92 Cicada Rhythm (from the album Cicada Rhythm on Normaltown Records 10-30-15) - Cicada Rhythm left limitations at home when the Athens, Georgia based duo recorded their self-titled album for Normaltown Records. The mix of acoustic guitar and strum of a bowed bass creates a dreamy background with Folk and Jazz melodies as it floats across the soundscape of “Static in My Dreams”, dodges the “Shadows Before You”, and carries a “Round Yellow Suitcase” on fragile piano and chord defined beats.
93 Jackie Greene (from the album Back to Birth on Yep Roc Records on Yep Roc Records 8-21-15) - Rock’n’roll rings out in the Roots on Back to Birth. It is in the rattle rhythm that announces “The King is Dead” with anthemic chords putting a flag in the hand of a ‘struggle of existence’, spinning the wheels on “Motorhome” with slow turns as it heads down a swaying blacktop, and clears the clouds away on a determined groove in “Now I Can See for Miles”. The album is produced by Steve Berlin (Los Lobos), and marks the Yep Roc Records debut for Jackie Greene on his seventh album release.
94 Randall Bramblett (from the album Devil Music on New West Records 9-18-15) - Randall Bramblett creates Devil Music to channel influences and create melodic soundscapes that drift and dive (“Whiskey-Headed Woman”), and put sharp-angled guitar notes in line with all-consuming percussion and horn lines (“Bottom of the Ocean”). Musically, Devil Music pounds heavy-handed rock into “Strong Love” as the album surfs audio waves of the sticky spiderweb beats backing Derek Trucks’ falsetto in “Angel Child”, lets “Ride” fall like a gentle rain, and carefully picks its way through erratic snatches of sound that fly like the mind weighing ‘you’re a bad girl baby, but you look so fine’ in “Thing for You”.
95 Nikki Hill (from the album Heavy Hearts, Hard Fists 10-16-15) - Heavy Heart, Hard Fists is never timid, unassuming, or quietly discrete about its love for old school rock’n’roll. The religious calling that took Little Richard from music in his prime circles back to earth as a spiritual infusion needed for the times in the vocals of Nikki Hill. While there is a lot of advice in the stories, Heavy Hearts, Hard Fists is not here to lay a loving hand on your shoulder. The love that Nikki Hill and her band offer is a tough one, with a prescription for their brand of high energy Rock’n’Soul show.
96 Stacie Collins (from the album Roll the Dice 10-9-15) - Stacie Collins delivers album number five as she shakes, rattles, and roars on her Roll the Dice release. The album features tracks written with husband, bandmate Al Collins (Jason and the Scorchers). Musically, Roll the Dice crackles with electricity. You can feel the heat of the amplifiers hitting Stacie’s back as she grabs the microphone, reaching, and hitting, the back row with her voice and harmonica. Country teases the rock’n’roll hard drive with Stacie blowing harp, bringing a touch of hard-edged Chicago Blues in the styles of James Cotton and Little Walter, and singing with a honky tonk holler.
96 Lindi Ortega (from the album Faded Gloryville 8-7-15) - Lindi Ortega is the benevolent higher power shining through the clouds on Faded Gloryville. The Canadian singer/songwriters tell tales as she sketches a ghost town landscape, the characters walking around in her songs still flesh, blood, very vulnerable, and never admitting defeat. Lindi Ortega holds a chameleon microphone for Faded Gloryville as she spits out a salty goodbye on “I Ain’t the Girl”, confesses on a heart storm stomp in “When You Ain’t Home”, raises the devil on “Run Amuck” with a rockabilly rhythm, and tenderly whispers her dreams on “Someday Soon”.
98 The Damn Quails (from the album Out of the Birdcage 9-4-15) - Out of the Birdcage opens on a one, two punch from its title track as an album opener followed in sequence with the pedal to the floor of “Tough Luck and Cryin' Shame”. Country Rock frames the story of the bands home state on “Oklahoma Blue”, striking the color against a monochrome frozen Detroit street. The Damn Quails offer more Oklahoma pride with one of the state’s heroes in “Woody Guthrie (from the dust)” and hear the echoes in the OK hills that join the harmonies in “Song of Home”.
99 Have Gun, Will Travel (from the album Science from an Easy Chair 07-31-15) - Have Gun, Will Travel give Alt Country plenty of breathing room on Science from an Easy Chair. Granting the music liberty to use a more expansive range to roam yet still dig deep with their Roots. The songs on Science from an Easy Chair offer a lot of salvation in verse and chorus, incorporating anthemic guitar leads and trippy soundscapes that roll across the album. The “Spirit of Discovery” takes jangles Alt Country that never stops its shake, “A Call to Arms” sings instrumentally like a seductive siren, and locks into glory on a desert riff that blows Have Gun, Will Travel with a rock’n’roll wind that barely takes a moment to breathe “True Believers”.
100 The Surreal McCoys (from the album The Howl and The Growl 9-11-15) - The Surreal McCoys are the guy sitting next to you at a last-call diner who turn and answer questions you never asked (“Blondesided”). They are the snakes crawling through “Turn and Run” on wicked riffs of rules, the pound and scratch beat balancing “God and the Devil”, and the reality show script that uses the local dive bar rock’n’roll scene as the marquee star of “Lust Vigilante”. The Surreal McCoys successfully put Hank Williams into the garage, and stick The Replacements on stage at a honky tonk. The Howl and The Growl goes one step further then their Johnny Clash blend of prison blues and no limit rock as The Surreal McCoys bring Johnny Cash (“Folsom Prison Blues”) onto the same stage as Led Zeppelin (“Whole Lotta Love”) with their mash-up of “Whole Lotta Folsom”.