I spent a lot of time this past year listening to music- in the truck, on the road, off the iMajig and the computer, in the Fervor Coulee bunker- and found so much to appreciate. I still buy a ton of music each year, both in store and less often from online retailers, and increasingly of the digital variety. I’m not streaming music- doesn’t seem fair to anyone from songwriter to artist- and don’t think I will any time soon. I continue to be fortunate in servicing from select publicists, artists, and labels and am appreciative of every release sent my direction, whether the physical CD (preferred) or digitally (increasingly). I can’t write about them all, but make a fair effort.
When reviewing the year, I found myself concentrating not only on the music I praised in writing, but on the many, many albums I purchased since January. I tend to avoid writing about the stuff I drop dollars on only because so much other music comes my way via assignments and such. But, when glancing back over the past twelve months I find that the music I purchased often floats above the favourites I’ve reviewed. Still, much that came my way unexpectedly has found itself on these rather expansive lists of my favourite roots music of 2014.
Favourite Reissues, Historical, and Archival Releases:
- Doc Watson & David Grisman- Live in Watsonville (Acoustic Disc) A great little set; not for the first time, so glad Grisman records everything!
- The Osborne Brothers- Nashville (Pinecastle) Very light in comparison to the previous three volumes in this Pinecastle series tracing the musical roots of Sonny and Bobby, but the performances are top-drawer. Great bluegrass infused country songs.
- Jim & Jesse & the Virginia Boys- Radio Shows (Rural Rhythm) A reissue of a 1978 set featuring 1962 radio transcriptions of the McReynolds brothers and their classic band. Love this stuff- 15 minutes daily, hawking your very best tunes and personal appearances. A wonderful set of music from the first generation.
- Jeannie C. Riley- Harper Valley PTA: The Plantation Recordings 1968-1970 (Charly) A two-disc set capturing five albums of her classic recordings. This is a late 2013 issue, but I only found it this year and have played it to pieces. Riley was much more than a one-hit wonder (she actually charted at least six Top Ten country hits with another eight hitting the Top 40) and this collection provides the evidence of her talents.
- Lucinda Williams- Lucinda Williams (Thirty Tigers) Not only does this classic album look and sound great on red vinyl, it comes with a download of a wonderful vintage concert. Worth the dollars spent, certainly.
- Linda McRae- Fifty Shades of Red (Borealis) A generous serving from McRae’s four solo recordings going back almost twenty years. Great stuff; bought before I realized it wasn’t a new album and I already had all the songs. Didn’t bother me a bit!
- Corb Lund- Counterfeit Blues (New West) In which our local son finds hisself and the Hurtin’ Albertans in Memphis and decide to revisit their early material sans overdubs and gimmickry. The results are quite splendid.
- Richard Thompson- Acoustic Classics (Beeswing) Just what it says.
- Steve Forbert- LIve in Lexington (iTunes) I’ve bought so many live Forbert sets over the past decade, I can’t keep them straight; I’ve bought more than one twice, and really couldn’t tell you the difference between them. I do know this: I enjoy each and every one of them, including this set recorded and released last year, but purchased by me in January. So it counts for 2014.
- Johnny Cash- Out Among the Stars (Sony Legacy) The lost album.
Mister, I Want My $15 Back:
- Neil Young- A Letter Home (Reprise) Neil and Jack White take the piss recording- slapped together, uninteresting, and sloppy renditions of songs we’ve all heard done better- with two tin cans and a nail.
- Dead Man’s Town: A Tribute to Springsteen’s Born in the USA (Lightning Rod) I quite like several of the performers who participated in this set, but the music itself is bland and misguided; there isn’t a single song here that I need to hear again.
- Lydia Loveless-Somewhere Else (Bloodshot) I love that she knows who Kirsty MacColl is, but dang: this recording had me wishing I was somewhere else. Tuneless, flat, seemingly disinterested: I am definitely missing what everyone else is raving about.
Sturgill Simpson- Metamodern Sounds in Country Music (Hightop Mountain) After the incredible break through that was his first album High Top Mountain, I truly didn’t expect this album to measure up. I just didn’t think the drop off would be this significant. I realize almost everyone else disagrees.Three years later, I realize I was wrong. This album isn’t bad. One track is, but the rest of the album is quite good. I was wrong.
Covers and Tributes:
- Laurie Lewis & Kathy Kallick- Sing the Songs of Vern and Ray (Spruce & Maple) I wrote about it here http://lonesomeroadreview.com/2014/09/06/3125/
- Mark Erelli- Milltowns (Self-released) Heartful tribute to Bill Morrissey, a troubled soul whom Erelli considered a mentor. He found the soul of each of these songs, many of which are not among Morrissey’s best known. Mary Gauthier likes it, too.
- Dave and Phil Alvin- Common Ground: Play and Sing the Songs of Big Bill Broonzy (Yep Roc) The scrapin’ Alvins put aside all their differences to create an Americana blues masterpiece. Not only is it great to hear them together again, it is wonderful to experience them pouring their soul into this unified project.
- Suzy Bogguss- Lucky (Loyal Duchess) Almost forgot about this one, although I’ve got no excuse for doing so. Having Bogguss sing these Merle Haggard songs is an absolute dream, and hearing her sing some of them in concert this summer made it an even greater treat. Beautiful voice.
- The Special Consensus & Friends- Country Boy: A Bluegrass Tribute to John Denver (Compass) I wrote about it here http://lonesomeroadreview.com/country-boy-a-bluegrass-tribute-to-john-denver-by-special-consensus-friends/
- Dear Jean: Artists Celebrate Jean Ritchie (Compass) I wrote about it heredear jean http://lonesomeroadreview.com/dear-jean-artists-celebrate-jean-ritchie-by-various-artists/
- The Kruger Brothers- Doc: Remembering Doc Watson (Double Time) Having seriously listened to bluegrass for more than twenty years, I’ve somehow missed listening to the Kruger Brothers. I had got it into my head that they were noodlin’ fools of no interest to me. My mistake. This recording, one that touches on all aspects of Doc Watson’s storied career- blues, folk, bluegrass, old-time- is darned fine, and its final track, “Shady Grove,” features Doc.
- No new music from The Earl Brothers
- I still haven’t got to Arizona to meet up with James Reams
- The ongoing debacle within the leadership of the IBMA
- Two trips to Kansas City, and still haven’t seen a live Royals game: and this year of all years!
My 25 Favourite Roots Albums of 2014:
As always, beyond the top three or four album placements are tenuous at best. In general, the albums listed four through ten could be rearranged on another day, as could those from eleven onward. Today, this is what I’m feeling.
- Eliza Gilkyson- The Nocturne Diaries (Red House) I wrote about it here: http://lonesomeroadreview.com/the-nocturne-diaries-by-eliza-gilkyson/
- Craig Moreau- The Daredevil Kid (www.CraigMoreau.com) I wrote about it here: https://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2014/09/13/craig-moreau-the-daredevil-kid-review/
- Carlene Carter- Carter Girl (Rounder) I wrote about it here https://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2014/05/13/carlene-carter-carter-girl-review/ and here http://lonesomeroadreview.com/2014/05/13/carter-girl-by-carlene-carter/
- Blackie & the Rodeo Kings- South (File Under: Music) Beyond not being able to remember if the album was called South or North, this is certainly one of my finer purchases of this year. It received a Polaris vote last time around, and will be further championed. The boys in BARK know what they are doing and manage to maintain energy and vibrancy within their well-oiled formula. Growly and simultaneously melodic, I’ve played this one a couple dozen times and will continue to do so. “I’m goin’ north….”
- Nick Hornbuckle- 12X2 (+/- 1) (Corvus) I wrote about it here https://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2014/11/10/nick-hornbuckle-12×2-1-review/ and here http://www.countrystandardtime.com/blog/FervorCouleeBluegrass/entry.asp?xid=1014
- Dirk Powell- Walking Through Clay (Sugar Hill) Sometimes I’ll come upon a review I’ve written and I’ll think to myself, “What were you doing?” Not so this one- I wrote about it here http://lonesomeroadreview.com/walking-through-clay-by-dirk-powell/
- Eric Brace & Karl Straub- Hangtown Dancehall (Red Beet) I wrote about it here http://lonesomeroadreview.com/hangtown-dancehall%e2%80%a8-by-eric-brace-karl-straub%e2%80%a8/
- Kathy Kallick- Cut to the Chase (Live Oak) I wrote about it here http://lonesomeroadreview.com/cut-to-the-chase-by-kathy-kallick/
- Rodney Crowell- Tarpaper Sky (New West) Nothin’ to add. If you don’t get it, you won’t. Among the most consistent Americana performers I can think of- Nashville did us a favour when they decided Diamonds & Dust was all they cared about.
- Mary Gauthier- Trouble & Love (Six Shooter) I recall clearly my pal Billy lending me Gauthier’s first couple albums, heck must be almost 15 years ago now. Before Filth & Fire was widely available, Mary handed me a copy and asked me to give it a listen- seldom have I been so doubly gob-smacked, first that she thought I was worthy of being given her album to consider for review and second at the power of the songs- that’s the one with “Camelot Motel,” “Christmas in Paradise,” and “Sugar Cane.” I’ve been listening to Trouble & Love quite a bit recently and while Gauthier no longer enjoys the element of surprise (because we danged well better know the quality to expect from her) she still manages to elevate herself in our esteem with each release. Joined here by folks including Darrell Scott, Beth Nielson Chapman, Ashley Cleveland, Duane Eddy, and Viktor Krauss, Gauthier has again raised her bar.
- Kyle Casey- North Star (Americelta) Drawing on strong connections to Americana, Scots Gaelic, and folks traditions, Kyle Casey’s album is an absolute delight to experience. A recent discovery, her album sat in a pile awaiting unearthing this month, and I must admit I am completely floored. I was mentally writing a review for the album and had ‘penciled in’ a comparison to Nanci Griffith long before we arrived to the final track, a beautiful rendition of Kate Wolf’s “Across the Great Divide,” made popular by Griffith. An interpretation of “Down to the River to Pray,” in Gaelic no less, is breathtaking, as are several of Casey’s own compositions including “Nora O’Kane” and the title track. An absolute gem, Americelta indeed.
- Lizzy Hoyt- New Lady of the Prairies (Blue Crown) Alberta’s fiddling rose stretches out on this recording, striking an ideal tension between atmosphere and instrumental elocution. Guided by co-producer John Reischman, Hoyt’s album balances Celtic, western, and Americana sounds. The title track is stunning, but is by no means the album’s only standout. Beautiful stuff, this.
- Jesse Winchester- A Reasonable Amount of Trouble (Appleseed) The title describes the efforts I made to find this wonderful album; a full day’s journey involving a highway, two freeways, a mall, and an extremely busy south side avenue, not to mention sufficient idjits and gorbs to send me running back to the country double time. Winchester, in these final recordings, sounds so comfortable and relaxed. The self-penned numbers are subtly sly, and the covers- especially a take of “Rhythm of the Rain”- are breathtaking. We should all be so lucky to bow out in such a manner.
- Otis Gibbs- Souvenirs of a Misspent Youth (Wanamaker) Every time I buy an Otis Gibbs album and then get it home to give it a listen, I ask myself “Why don’t you listen to him more often?” I have no idea.
- Shari Ulrich- Everywhere I Go (Borealis/Esther) I wrote about it here https://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2014/10/04/roots-song-of-the-week-shari-ulrich-rain-rain-rain/
- Alice Gerrard- Follow The Music (Tompkins Square) If you are not familiar with Gerrard, she has been a mainstay in the old-time music world for more than forty years, and prior to that was without a doubt ‘a pioneering woman of bluegrass’ through her long association with the dearly missed Hazel Dickens. Not one to rest on her laurels, Gerrard has teamed with the principals of Hiss Golden Messenger to produce an album every bit as compelling as last year’s Bittersweet. I wrote about it here http://lonesomeroadreview.com/follow-the-music-by-alice-gerrard/
- Doug Seegers- Going Down to the River (Rounder) Definitely the roots ‘feel good’ story of the year. I wrote about it here https://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2014/09/13/doug-seegers-going-down-to-the-river-review/
- Mike Farris- Shine For All the People (Compass) I wrote about it here https://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2014/09/13/mike-farris-shine-for-all-the-people-review/
- John Hiatt- Terms of My Surrender (New West) I can find something to appreciate on every John Hiatt album. On this one, that includes absolutely everything.
- Wilko Johnson & Roger Daltrey- Going Back Home (Chess) Beyond a few previously unknown artists, this album was my surprise of the year. I read something about it in either Uncut or Mojo, but didn’t pay it mind; when I saw it in the store for a reasonable price, I picked it up. I know Johnson simply as a name, going back to the Stiff-era while Daltrey is, well, Roger Daltrey and one of my all-time faves. The album is comprised of (mostly) Johnson songs in the spirit of the ‘Maximum R & B’ that Daltrey came of age upon. Lively and bluesy- quite fine, thank you.
- Billy Joe Shaver- Long In The Tooth (Lightning Rod) Since my father-in-law introduced me to his music more than two decades ago, I’ve become convinced that Shaver can do no wrong…even when he does. Not here, though.
- Jonathan Byrd- You Can’t Outrun the Radio (self-released) I have bought a number of Byrd’s albums, but this is the first one that really and truly grabbed me and held on start to finish. The closing track “Close Enough To Touch” is so good, it should be a song everyone can hum.
- Kelly Willis and Bruce Robison- Our Year (Premium) I like to think I can hear their passion for each other and these songs, not to mention the light-hearted fun they seem to be having when singing and playing together.
- Jeff Black- Folklore (Lotos Nile) I wrote about it here https://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2014/04/21/jeff-black-folklore-review/ and here http://lonesomeroadreview.com/2014/04/21/folklore-by-jeff-black/
- Laurie Lewis- One Evening in May (Spruce and Maple) I wrote about it here http://lonesomeroadreview.com/one-evening-in-may-by-laurie-lewis/
Honourable Mention- Bob Walkenhorst, Jeff Porter, and Norm Dahlor pounding through two hours of live music at The Record Bar in Kansas City 2014 April 16- a wonderful set of Walkenhorst songs and requests; light on covers, heavy on energy and grit. “Buck O’Neill” to kick off the baseball season. Thanks to Jay for recording this and all the shows: https://archive.org/details/bobwalkenhorst2014-04-16.flac
That’s it- my version of my favourite albums of the last year. Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee- I hope you’ll come back again. Donald