As this project has continued, I’m finding that I’m writing and reflecting more about the albums. Maybe not a bad thing, but it takes up more space. As a result, I’ve adjusted the postings to include four parts. I’ll get the final five up tomorrow morning. Yesterday was the busiest day ever on Fervor Coulee, and I thank you sincerely for dropping by. I hope you are uncovering or rediscovering music that will take you into your next decade. Please, buy the artists’ music; downloading from a sketchy Portuguese site does nothing to continue or support the music. Donald
6. Dale Ann Bradley- Don’t Turn Your Back 2009 No one deserves success in music. It has to be earned. And Dale Ann has earned her modest success in the bluegrass world. What Catch Tomorrow started was further refined on Don’t Turn Your Back. Hopefully the business side of things is taken care of to the same degree the artistic elements are, because Dale Ann Bradley has earned her rightful place as the premier female vocalist in bluegrass. She should headline all the major festivals, and with Don’t Turn Your Back she demonstrates that she has the music to satisfy all bluegrass fans.
7. David Davis & The Warrior River Boys- Troubled Times 2006 Superior bluegrass performances that do not attempt to duplicate the sounds that came before, although their influences are respected and present. Every song has the depth of history, whether it be the history it is sharing (“Chancellorsville” and “The River Ran Black”) or in the history of the music it is exploring. No one sings like David Davis, and on this album he has never sounded better. There is darkness here, in the songs, in the maudlin harmonies, in the instrumentation. Beautiful.
8. Maria Dunn- We Were Good People 2004 (Albertan/Canadian) While folk music isn’t a competition, I have to be careful when stating ‘best’ or ‘finest’ in a province blessed with talents as significant as both Maria Dunn and John Wort Hannam. This album, which explores the history of the province and western Canada probably isn’t the place to start exploring her music- it may be a bit too localized for some tastes- but the songs are so finely crafted- much like brief documentary films- and breathe with the experiences and struggles of those who came before us that it should be heard around the continent. An amazing achievement.
9. Kate Campbell- Monuments 2003 I have no idea what Southern Gothic means but I suspect it sounds like this. Kate Campbell has never made a disappointing album. This one is career-defining, in my opinion. Give “Yellow Guitar,” “Petrified House,” “New South,” or “Joe Louis’ Furniture” a listen and see if your view of music doesn’t shift.
10. John Reischman & The Jaybirds- Field Guide 2003 (Canadian) Canada’s finest bluegrass outfit have now released four terrific albums and each refines and redefines their approach to bluegrass. Given seven years, this one is my favourite but all are terrific.
11. Earl Brothers- Troubles to Blame 2006 Like a shot of warm whiskey, this album leaves its mark. Bluegrass never sounded like this before Robert Earl Davis and his crew let loose. Their debut album Women, Whiskey, and Death is as powerful, but this one benefited from a more realized sense of self.
12. Original Soundtrack- Heartworn Highways 2006 I looked for this album for a couple years before finally finding it from Amazon. An eye-opening DVD certainly, but the soundtrack holds up on its own. The early tracks from Crowell, Earle, and Hiatt are interesting, but its music from the likes of Larry Jon Wilson (my introduction to the man and the reason I looked so hard for the disc) and Gamble Rogers complementing the familiar Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt tunes that make this one essential.
13. David Davis & The Warrior River Boys- Two Dimes and a Nickel 2009 David Davis takes his time producing bluegrass albums, and the pay-off these past few albums has made the wait worth the investment. This one is just as good, whatever that means, as the higher ranked Troubled Times disc; I just haven’t spent the years with this recent release as I have the previous one.
14. Guy Clark- Somedays the Song Writes You 2009 Given more time, this one will likely climb on this chart. An entire album of timeless songs. While other writers revisit their past and rest on well-earned laurels, Clark bangs out- with collaborators- new classics like “Hemingway’s Whiskey” and “Maybe I Can Paint Over That.” Let’s hope there are more like these on the workbench.
15. Ralph Stanley & Jim Lauderdale- Lost in the Lonesome Pines 2002 Lauderdale helped Ralph Stanley explore areas he may not have found on his own. Terrific songs.
16. Bruce Springsteen- Devils and Dust 2005 Springsteen’s darkest moments. I loved it like nothing since Nebraska.
17. Darrell Scott- The Invisible Man 2006 On which Darrell Scott reached his peak. It can’t get better than this. Can it?
18. Fred Eaglesmith- Balin 2003 (Canadian) Fred knows bluegrass.
19. Kirsty MacColl- From Croydon to Cuba 2005 A very tidy summation of the pop genius that was Kirsty MacColl, spread over three discs. I already had most of it, but the set filled the holes that remained in my collection.
20. Fred Eaglesmith- Tinderbox 2008 (Canadian) A complex and troubling album that scares me. Much like Fred himself. The best album of the year, in my opinion. I don’t want all Eaglesmith music to sound like this, but I’m very glad he made the album.
21. Nick Lowe- Quiet Please: The New Best of Nick Lowe 2009 A terrific compilation spanning Lowe’s entire career. A beautiful package holding some of the best songs and performances ever captured.
22. Slowdrag- Ploughin’ It Right to the Fence 2000 (Canadian) Like nothing else. Slowgrass defined. A wonderful acoustiblue treat, the harmonies sell this one. A terrific band. I wonder if they are still around. A hallmark of Canadian acoustic music.
23. Mark Erelli- Delivered 2008 Several albums and a lot of years came together on this one. A serious talent crafted a complex, magnificent album.
24. Del McCoury Band- Del & The Boys 2001 Any Del is good Del. On this album, it all seemed to come together and there wasn’t a finer bluegrass band on stage or in the studio.
25. Dave Alvin & the Guilty Women- Dave Alvin & the Guilty Women 2009 A great album that rose considerably in my estimation following their volcanic performance this past October at Hardly Strictly. I still don’t get “Que Sera Sera”, but the album is a gem.
26. Rodney Crowell- The Houston Kid 2001 Dusted himself off and got serious about being a writer and singer of significance. “I Walk the Line Revisited” had come out a couple years prior and set the stage for this examination of where one came from.
27. Tim O’Brien- Fiddler’s Green/Cornbread Nation 2005 A double shot, released separately but considered together. O’Brien had a tremendous decade, capped by these two albums of essential Americana- bluegrass, country, and folk.
28. Jay Clark- Progress 2006 A WDVX discovery. I could have included any of Clark’s three albums on the list, but this is the one I return to most often. “When I Get To Drinkin’” is as good a song that came out this decade, and there are a half-dozen more almost as good on this amazing album from East Tennessee’s Jay Clark. Find his music if you enjoy most of the other songwriters on this list.
29. Steve Forbert- The Place and the Time 2009 After several albums that had their moments, a disc that was the moment. Start to finish, a remarkable achievement.
30. Jeff & Vida- The Simplest Plans 2002 I love this album. I love this album. I love this album.
31. Gillian Welch- Time (The Revelator) 2001 Took my appreciation for Welch and Rawlings to a new level.
32. Kate Campbell- Twang on a Wire 2003 Simple versions of female country classics. I can listen to this one anytime, anywhere.
33. Alison Krauss & Robert Plant- Raising Sand 2007 Brought AK to another level and made me realize that enjoying Plant’s voice didn’t mean I was stuck in the 70s.
34. Tom Russell- Wounded Heart of America 2007 A tricky one. Largely a tribute containing previously released versions of Russell songs, there are also a handful of fresh takes as well as Russell’s terrific song, “The Death of Jimmy Martin;” while I wasn’t a fan of Martin the performer or person, it is undeniable that he produced some great music and this track is stellar.
35. Audie Blaylock, J.D. Crowe, Paul Williams, and Kenny Ingram- A Tribute to Jimmy Martin 2004 A tremendous bluegrass experience featuring former Sunny Mountain Boys doing the songs they helped make into standards.
36. Doc Watson & David Hold Legacy 2002 Two discs of stories and one of performance. This is the ultimate Doc experience.
37. Mary Gauthier- Filth & Fire 2002 Just before the hype exceeded reasonable expectations. I love Gauthier’s sound and voice, and this album was like a private communication with listeners.
38. Bruce Springsteen & The Sessions Band- Live In Dublin 2007 Pure fun.
39. James Reams, Walter Hensley, & The Barons of Bluegrass- Wild Card 2006 Wicked bluegrass sounds; I have been anticipating more music from the combo since this one dropped.
40. Jason Ringenberg- Best Tracks & Side Tracks 2008 A well-tended compilation.
41. Old Reliable- Pulse of Light Dark Landscape 2002 (Albertan/Canadian) I can’t tell you one song on the album without looking at the disc itself. But the sounds are so staggering that- for once- the words and meanings matter little to me. What is of significance is the entire listening experience, the atmosphere that Edmonton’s Little Band that Almost Did captured for several years. In my opinion, it all came to fruition on this album, their third.
42. Cliff Waldron & The New Shades of Grass- A Little Ways Down the Road 2002 Pure and simple bluegrass with a voice that is ageless.
43. Kimberly Rew- Essex Hideaway 2005 Made me a fan all over again.
44. Chris Stuart & Backcountry- Mojave River 2004 A premier songwriter’s material performed by a terrific band.
45. Kieran Kane- Shadows on the Ground 2002 An inspirational and enlightening collection of acoustic music. Several of Kane’s best songs are included, including “Ain’t Holdin’ Back” and “Mountain Song.” My personal fave is “June Carter Sure Can Sing,” nicely complementing a rendition of “Will You Miss Me.” “In a world of country costume jewelry, she’s a diamond ring!” This is how I best enjoy Kane.
46. Doug Cox & Salil Bhatt- Slide to Freedom 2007 Blues and mohan veena, two sounds that work together to create a fresh music.
47. Chris Knight- The Trailer Tapes 2007 I waited for this album since reading about it in a No Depression article that accompanied Knight’s excellent 1998 Decca debut. The anticipation was satisfied.
48. The Crooked Jades- The Unfortunate Rake Vol. 1 2000 My introduction to the San Francisco old-time troupe. Heard them at Wintergrass 2001- a significant weekend that introduced me to lots of new sounds and approaches.
49. The Steeldrivers- The Steeldrivers 2008 Monroe’s bluegrass never sounded like this, but it sure feels like The Steeldrivers. Bluesy and hard, inarguably one of the best bluegrass albums of the decade.
50. John Anderson- Bigger Hands 2009 I didn’t realize this was a 2009 release or it would have certainly made my annual list, previously posted. Whereas it seems like just about every album from Anderson is a comeback, this one just sounds like an Anderson release should. The voice remains intact, but no one seems to be trying too hard, resulting in a listenable album that takes one away for a half hour or so.