Friday Five: Best of May

Juli Thanki | June 1st, 2012

May was a good month for fans of country and roots music, with new albums from folks like Sara Watkins, The Brothers Comatose, Loafers’ Glory, and others. Here are my five favorite records of the past month. What are yours?

5. The Two Man Gentlemen Band – Two at a Time

Influenced by prewar jazz and jump blues, the Gentlemen (tenor guitarist Andy Bean and bassist Fuller Condon) are what fellow throwback Pokey LaFarge would sound like if he spent more time at pool parties and tiki bars. The lyrics are irreverent and ridiculous (“My girl tastes like pork chops/When I kiss her, I wonder what she had for dinner/Pork chops, I bet it was pork chops” is par for the course) and the record sounds so fun that you can’t help but be dragged into the Gentlemen’s world of strong drink, Indian takeout, and two star motels.

 

4. Mark Collie & His Reckless Companions – Alive at Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary 

Recorded over a decade ago, Collie’s prison project finally saw the light of day this month. It’s well worth the wait. Alive at Brushy Mountain is a fine collection of country music, with tales of outlaws, sin, and redemption all backed by the cheers and hollers of the inmates from the now-closed prison. Collie acknowledges the artist behind two iconic prison albums — and one of his biggest musical influences — with a superb, hard-driving cover of “Folsom Prison Blues” Guest appearances from Kelly Willis, Shawn Camp, and Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown round out one of the year’s best live records.

 

3. Paul Thorn – What the Hell is Goin’ On?

Paul Thorn, one of  roots music’s best songwriters, interprets others’ work on this covers album. Some songs are by Americana big guns like Buddy Miller (“Shelter Me, Lord”) and Ray Wylie Hubbard (“Snake Farm”), while a few tracks are unexpected choices, but pleasant surprises, like Eli “Paperboy” Reed’s “Take My Love with You” and Lindsey Buckingham’s “Don’t Let Me Down Again.” The album’s best song is “She’s Got a Crush on Me.” It’s an anything-but-ordinary love song for ordinary, overweight, chainsmoking folks that’s delivered beautifully by Thorn.

 

2. Willie Nelson – Heroes

Of all the songs on the album, the rollicking “Roll Me Up” has gotten the most attention, but Heroes is more than a pot punch line, thanks in large part two Willie’s sons, who seem to have brought out the best in him. Lukas Nelson, who appears on ten of the album’s fourteen tracks, has his daddy’s creak in his voice, and the two sound fantastic together on the Western Swing toetapper “My Window Faces the South” and Pearl Jam’s “Just Breathe.”

 

1. Chelle Rose – Ghost of Browder Holler

With her gritty “Appalachian rock ‘n’ roll” and sharp songwriting, the rough-voiced Rose is the heiress to Lucinda Williams’ throne. Sophomore album Ghost of Browder Holler (produced by Browder Holler) isn’t one to be missed. The record is bookended by its two strongest songs: the bluesy title track about a visit from the spirit of a dead boyfriend and the poignant “Wild Violets Pretty,” featuring Elizabeth Cook, but all of the songs have been on heavy rotation in my car, and I don’t think that’ll change any time soon.

  1. Jack Williams
    June 1, 2012 at 11:17 am

    My only new release purchase in May is the Chelle Rose album. Love it. I like the comment about her being the heiress to Lucinda Williams’s throne. My excitement about this album is similar to how I felt about Lu’s Car Wheels on a Gravel Road after it came out.

    Actually, I did buy one more album released in May, but haven’t received it yet. Goodbye Normal Street by the Turnpike Troubadours. High hopes based on reviews I’ve read and samples I’ve listened to.

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