Corn Potato String Band 2 (Agilest music)
A tremendous sequel to last years authentic hillbilly instrumental debut by a talented trio who are devoted to ‘old timey’ music. There are more vocals on this album, probably giving it a wider appeal but if you have any kind of liking or even curiosity for old 1920s ‘hillbilly’ music either or both are an excellent starting point. All three members are multi instrumentalists and if you get the chance to see them live take it, the musical experience will transport you back many decades such is their authenticity. Hugely entertaining (and educational) album!
Tom Feldman – Delta blues & spirituals (Magnolia Recording co.)
This is one of the best acoustic blues albums i’ve heard for years. Tom’s guitar playing is extraordinary and he plays and sings with all of the authenticity and in some cases more skill than some of the originators of these classic blues songs. If you only purchse one blues album this year, make it this one.
Additional Moog – Endless air (2009) (Fight This Generation)
I don’t think this band even exists now but on their three albums they produced a nice blend of mellow alt. Country rock that included a little indie rock, leading to considerable originality and huge promise, but I guess you can’t live on promise. It’s a shame because this is a really good album that despite the mellow sounds has a lot to say for itself and is quite addictive. Towards the end of the album they up the ante, showing to a large degree how far they were prepared to stretch themselves. ‘Coulda been contenders!’
Adam Faucett – Blind water finds blind water (Last chance records)
A melodic guitar sound but sparse arrangements that are a little unusual, with some great songs by Faucett that stretch but never break his extraordinary vocal style. This is genuinely an album that is impossible to pigeon hole stylistically but there is sometimes a rolling dark country feel allied to a spooky bluesiness all tied together by a tremendous slow to mid tempo rootsy rock!
Added 5th February 2015
Ebony Hillbillies – Sabrina’s holiday (EH Music) (2004)
If ever a band (although on this their first recording a trio) could be considered the missing link between old ‘race music’ and ‘hillbilly’ it is this extraordinarily gifted bunch of African Americans. Much of this album is instrumental with fiddle, banjo, acoustic bass and dulcimer played as if their lives depended on it but for me the highlight is their rendition of the classic Shenandoah, that includes a raw heartfelt vocal. Several other songs include vocals and there is no distinction between the two mentioned ‘genres.’ This was their first of, so far, three albums in a career that virtually defines American roots music played with all of the skill, fire and passion that its history deserves.
Jim White vs. The Packway Handle Band – Take it like a man (Yep Roc)
Jim White has always been anything but predictable and that continues with this excellent shared recording with the tremendous bluegrass/old timey string band who work perfectly with Jims songs on this album. It’s not really bluegrass but with Jims back catalogue you wouldn’t really expect to be able to hang a label on it. Suffice to say it is not only an excellent (but not his best) album but it does sound like he’s having more fun than usual and he’s in fine voice on these quirky, often emotion drenched and just as often tongue in cheek songs. A great artists who always has you wondering what he will do next!
Added 11th February 2015
Dan Walsh – Incidents & Accidents (Rooksmere Records)
For some inexplicable reason i’ve always been attracted to the emotion drenched sound of a banjo! As soon as I started playing this recording by Dan his hugely impressive banjo playing really piqued my interest. Add the fact that he has as much talent as a singer songwriter and you have pretty much the complete package and if that’s not enough for the over fussy, he is able to conjure up a tremendous old timey Appalachian haunting atmosphere as well, quite something for an Englishman!
Cameron Blake – Alone on the world stage
A warm expressive vocal style plus much more takes Cameron Blake into a similar, but not the same, stylistic territory to Buckley sr and jr, Tom Rush, Nick Drake and surprisingly few other singer songwriters from the edgy side of roots music. Accompanied by just his own guitar and occasional piano these twelve ‘modern folk songs’ are lyrically, vocally and sonically impressive, at times addictive and often extraordinary. A tremendous, reflective album that gets better with every listening session.
Bob Dylan – Shadows in the night (Columbia)
As a Dylan fan I was determined to ignore this album. Dylan covering songs made famous by one of the other 20th century musical legends, Frank Sinatra, was just too ridiculous for words. No way it can work so why bother? When a review copy arrived I ignored it for a couple of days after which, being human, my curiosity got the better of me! I’m now swallowing my pride enough to say that these ten stripped back to basics interpretations of some great songs will probably be in many, including mine, albums of the year! If the recording had been orchestrated, my original thoughts would have been correct, but it isn’t, and as such puts a different perspective on the songs, added to which Dylan is in better voice than for a long time. Still a raw growl but at least it is melodic on this occasion. A stupid idea but one that really works brilliantly!
Added 18th February 2015
David Corley – Available light (Continental Song City)
53 years old may seem old to make your debut album but when it is as good as this tremendous recording it is well worth that long wait! The album has been given the hugely oversimplified label of ‘blues rock,’ a description that to my ears should be ignored! It is certainly a ‘roots’ album but is as uncategorisable as the late 1980s solo debut by Robbie Robertson. What that means is peerless songwriting, great arrangements and playing, a variety of tempos all driven by David’s hugely atmospheric, raw but melodic vocals. Anyone who has a liking for roots music needs a copy of this great album in their collection. Methinks another contender for album of the year, perhaps even an early favourite!
Cody Jinks – Adobe sessions (Self Released)
This is a terrific album of what is often termed ‘Outlaw country.’ Basically it is twelve tremendous songs of life often sited on the ‘wrong side of the tracks,’ beautifully played by his band and sung with conviction and edginess by a man whose vocal qualities put him on a par with Cale Tyson, Sturgill Simpson and Bob Wayne amongst a few others. In other words, an album of high quality pure ‘country music!’
Leslie Stevens & the Badgers – Roomful of smoke (2010) (Self Released)
Gorgeous ‘country music’ album with lovely feminine vocals, excellent songs and with enough attitude and commitment to lift her well above the pack. There is enough stylistic and tempo variety to keep the listeners interest and some of the arrangements are a little unusual adding to the diverse feel of this highly enjoyable recording. So why isn’t she a big star? Haven’t a clue, but Leslie and her excellent band have more talent than most and there are more than enough terrific performances on this album to warrant close attention.
Added 20th February 2015
Jake Xerxes Fussell (Paradise of Bachelors)
This is a truly great album by a man so steeped in old time music (‘race music’ and ‘hillbilly’!) that it oozes from his pores. He is a tremendous guitarist, a vocalist in a similar characterful vein to Ry Cooder and obviously highly rated by the ‘roots music’ industry as you would need to be to be helped out on your debut by the likes of William Tyler and Chris Scruggs. Old songs but with fresh life breathed into them by someone who has a depth of feeling that enables him to stay true to the tradition but at the same time update some great old songs for the 21st century.
JD McPherson – Let the good times roll (Rounder Records)
If ever an album could be said to define 21st century ‘Rock ‘n’ roll’ it has to be this excellent recording that really catches the spirit of those early days in the 1950s, and without losing that spirit, modernises the genre. The tempos are nicely varied and there is plenty of fire and drive and a powerful dramatic sense to everything on this well constructed album that has a genuine feel of originality.
Sam Lee & Friends – The fade in time (The Nest collective records)
It is just possible that Sam Lee may very well be the most original folk singer songwriter around in this 21st century. Certainly the ‘Englishness’ of his music is there for all to hear but what he does is mix elements of folk music from other parts of the world giving his already extraordinary music a completely unique style. When you think about it, in a world that thanks to modern technology is shrinking rapidly, it makes perfect sense to incorporate easily accessed influences from other races and creeds. There are obvious strains that in the past helped define American music but that is only a small part of this incredible recording that in many ways is way ahead of the field and perhaps it’s time. Add Sam’s expressive vocal that includes some inflections that are reminiscent of Johnny Mathis, and you have an album, and an artist, that are genuinely different.
Added 23rd February 2015
Gallows Bound (Self Released)
I saw this tremendous West Virginian band described as ‘folk punk,’ for once a totally accurate description. There are excellent songs, raw hard driving male vocals, lovely feminine vocals with an edge, plenty of fire, commitment and drive, with memorable melodies and always played with a propulsive edginess. This is their second album and along with their first is essential listening for any roots music/ old timey fan!
Jimmy Swope – The wages of sin (Farmageddon Records)
If any modern day album defines raw unadulterated ‘pure country’ music it has to be this tremendous debut by Jimmy Swope. The songs are excellent as are the arrangements and playing, with the sound including plenty of twang and steel guitar but Jimmy’s raw, expressive vocals are what hardens the music and gives it a believable edginess. Every song, including the Kris Kristofferson cover, is excellent but The Wolf is a lengthy and extraordinary epic murder/suicde ballad. A tremendous album that is a million miles above some of the characterless music often dished up as country music.
Asleep at the Wheel – Still the king (Bismeaux records)
I can never get my head around the horrendous logistical problems involved in making an album such as this. There are 22 tracks on this high quality recording of ‘Western Swing,’ with Ray Benson and Asleep at the Wheel being constants throughout and the guest list being a veritable who’s who of everyone from tradiational country musicians such as Willie, Merle, George Strait to modern day favourites, Old Crow Medicine Show, Pokey laFarge, Carrie Rodriguez and many more on a lengthy recording of supreme quality. All artists seem to have been allowed to interpret these classic songs in their own way but always within the loose constraints of Western Swing, leading to a recording that is pretty much indispensable as far as i’m concerned. We have much to thank Ray Benson and his band for in keeping the genre alive for more than 40 years but this could well be the ultimate accolade for them as well as the late great Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys.
Added 25th February 2015
Lindsay Lou & the Flatbellys – Ionia (Earthworkmusic)
This tremendously talented ‘stringband’ have genuinely updated that old genre from the early days of recording and in many ways made themselves unique in the process. This really is an album of stringband music for the 21st century and beyond with twelve excellent songs, virtuosic playing and Lindsays beautiful manipulative vocal style linking so well with the instrumentation that there is often an improvisational feel to this fascinating album. Her voice meanders it’s way through these songs portraying an aggressive edge where it is called for and great tenderness where that is required taking the listener on an emotional roller coaster.
Bella Hardy – With the dawn (Noe Records/Elm house records)
So much for the attitude that folk music is ‘old fashioned.’ Bella Hardy is a fine example of the modern day ‘folk singer’ songwriter. You won’t get far into the album before you realise that this lady is something special in her updating of the genre. It’s a strange album that repays repeated listening sessions and it is also an album that you have to sit and listen to if you want to get it’s full beauty. Any listener will soon realise that she has a feel for the tradition but also has a strong impulse to produce music of it’s time. It has already been proven that the died in the wool traditionalists love Bella’s music and whilst this album is steeped in folk music, even if you don’t like folk music I think it likely you will love this gorgeous recording. A truly ‘original’ album that more than justifies the regard in which she is held by the folk world. Next, maybe the whole world!
Richard Lanahan – Dreamer’s witness (Self Released)
This is the tremendous debut solo album by The Welldiggers lead guitarist. His guitar playing has always been impressive but now it can be added that he is also an excellent songwriter and vocalist. If you even just tolerate classic country rock you will love this terrific album that has a country rock instrumentation but one that works beautifully with Richards ‘folksy’ heartfelt songs. He is a master of melody with virtually every song on this disc being memorable and taking the emotions through a roller coaster but mainly uplifting ride.
Added 26th February 2015
Southern Tenant Folk Union – The Chuck Norris Project (Johnny Rock Records)
This, their sixth album, is another superb recording from this Edinburgh based collective of hugely talented ‘roots’ musicians. Despite massive personnel changes over the course of those six albums, band leader, banjoist and main songwriter Pat McGarvey’s dynamic vision of roots music development has never faltered. The early albums were ‘classic’ alt. country with a little folksiness but gradually the British isles folk music element has come more to the fore and yet there is still an undercurrent of Americana that keeps the thread going. For non fans of Chuck Norris movies (of which I am a proud member!) don’t worry, this is not as such a tribute to our hero! It is a very cleverly constructed recording with each song having the title of a Norris movie but there the link ends. The songs are thematically political, but again don’t worry there is no preaching, just a series of tremendous songs that make valid points, all written, played and sung by a hugely talented band who bring a unique originality to the ‘folksy roots music’ genre.