It was a great year for Americana, as always. I had a lot of favorites for this year, but for simplicity’s sake, here’s a top five (in no particular order) of the music I love:
Crazy Heart soundtrack
Jeff Bridges as a country singer? You’d better believe it. A good blend of contemporary artists, classic country, and some originals written for the movie by T Bone Burnett (and performed by Jeff Bridges and sometimes even Colin Farrell) make a great soundtrack that stands alone to perfectly complement the movie.
Justin Townes Earle – Harlem River Blues
Justin Townes Earle’s latest effort doesn’t have a single song I’d skip. There’s a wide range of musical stylings here, from the dark gospel sound of the title track, to the Elvis rockabilly of “Move Over Mama,” to the singer-songwriter tradition of “Christchurch Woman." Earle puts on a great live show, as well, and shouldn’t be missed.
Broken Hearts and Dirty Windows
Most, if not all, of the singer-songwriters today owe something to the words of John Prine. For some reason, Prine has always flown under the popular radio radar, but he has a devoted following among listeners and fellow artists alike. This compilation of covers is genius with unexpected artists like Bon Iver right next to Americana favorites like the Avett Brothers. Standout tracks for me were the Josh Ritter cover of "Mexican Home” and the Avett Brothers version of “Spanish Pipedream.”
Carolina Chocolate Drops – Genuine Negro Jig
This is the album that carried the Carolina Chocolate Drops from local favorites to national recognition. Plays on NPR catapulted their status, and with good reason: this album updates bluegrass for a new generation, including a cover of the R&B song “Hit ‘Em Up Style” that adds a whole new groove.
Twistable Turnable Man
Not many people realize that Shel Silverstein penned several of the old country classics of yesteryear. Perhaps the best-known is Johnny Cash’s hit song “A Boy Named Sue." This tribute album has a strong lineup (Todd Snider, My Morning Jacket, and Sarah Jarosz with Black Prairie, just to name a few), brilliantly covering the songs of a well-known wordsmith.