Staff Picks For September/October 2009
One More For The Road by Adam Steffey
The past few months have been pretty rough on the wallets of bluegrass fans, with stellar releases coming from the Del McCoury Band, Steep Canyon Rangers, and Ricky Skaggs. But for my money, the best bluegrass record of the past few months—maybe all year—is Adam Steffey’s One More for the Road. Steffey, a mandolin player who’s been a member of Alison Krauss & Union Station and Mountain Heart, and who has contributed to dozens of other artists’ albums, is currently with the Dan Tyminski Band. He’s got a lovely deep voice as evidenced on the title track and a few others and guest vocalists Alison Krauss (covering the Bluegrass Cardinals’ “Warm Kentucky Sunshine”), Ronnie Bowman (“Please Don’t Tell Me How the Story Ends”), and Tyminski (“Let Me Fall”) are their usual superb selves. A handful of instrumentals including “Durang’s Hornpipe,” which features wife Tina Steffey on banjo, and rollicking closer “Barnyard Playboy” round out the must-listen album.
Too Much Living by Danny Balis
Returning to the musical roots of his childhood, Dallas music-scene veteran Danny Balis channels his inner-Don Williams without imitating the gentle giant. An album that is simply and expertly Country. No “posts,” “alts,” “neos” or other narrow prefixes are required for this collection of tales that were created while Balis resided in a personal hell following the sudden loss of his best friend and gifted collaborator, Carter Albrecht. While the album isn’t solely about tragic loss, there is a steady stream of heartbreak and dissolution that is evident throughout, even in Balis’ choice of which artist he covers for one of the album’s songs, the tortured Townes Van Zandt. That direction is somewhat telling, as it fits in with the originals that make up the rest of this stellar album.
The Wreckage by Will Hoge
Will Hoge could have let a brutal car accident—followed by numerous surgeries—derail his career. Instead, he rebounded with The Wreckage, an appropriately titled album given the circumstances. The result is a lyrically dark but musically pleasing album that is more rock than anything else. The comparisons to Springsteen and Petty are pretty easy to make, but Hoge describes himself best on “Even If It Breaks Your Heart” with the lyrics “Way back on the radio dial/A fire got lit inside a bright-eyed child/Every note just wrapped around his soul/From steel guitar to Memphis all the way to rock and roll.” That steel guitar influence is clear on “Goodnight/Goodbye” which finds Hoge teaming up with Nashville buddy Ashley Monroe. The song paints a picture of a painfully frustrating relationship and Monroe’s aching back-up vocals drive the point home.
I And Love And You by The Avett Brothers
While we saw Miranda Lambert, Radney Foster and Corb Lund put out some of the strongest work of their careers, the best thing I’ve heard in a long time comes from the Avetts. This should serve as Exhibit A on how to make the transition to a major label without totally screwing up your sound. Yes, the banjo is largely absent, but the heartfelt lyrics, the strong vocals from Seth and Scott and the genre-bouncing are all intact. They can swap effortlessly from a simple piano/cello-driven ballad like “The Perfect Space” to something more raucous and wild like, well, the middle part of “The Perfect Space.” And the title track is the best song of the year.
Ken Morton, Jr.
When The Money’s All Gone by Jason Eady
It’s important to give shout-outs to outstanding efforts by Chris Young, Miranda Lambert, Rachel Proctor and Bryan White, who all had extremely worthy releases. There has been a gluttony of great product in the last 60 days, but my choice goes out to Jason Eady’s When The Money’s All Gone. The album is a delicious recipe of blues, soul, r&b, Cajun, plenty of country, a pinch of gospel and a hint of rock and roll. It includes one of my favorite tracks of the year in a classic story-song “Promises In Pieces.” Filled with fiddle and steel guitar, the song tells the confessional and somberly haunting tale of someone who shoots a teller during a bank robbery and whose friend, the only friend that continues to give him second chances, takes the fall for the crime and is hanged. Like many of the songs, it’s positively and hypnotically captivating. But nothing on the album is as emotionally charged as “Cry Pretty,” a conversational song about the awkwardness and rush of emotions about unexpectedly running into an ex-girlfriend.
When The Money’s All Gone by Jason Eady
Probably more Americana than strictly country, Jason Eady draws from various influences on his latest, When the Money’s All Gone (revealing, I know). From the opening romper, “God Fearing Blues,” which has already led to more than one rowdy road trip sing-a-long featuring the horribly out of tune Vercher brothers, to the appropriate closer, “Traveling Show,” it’s an incredibly cohesive collection that finds Eady in a constant struggle for redemption despite shooting himself in the foot every step of the way–it may not be solid country gold, but it’s damned good.
When The Money’s All Gone by Jason Eady
Some of my favorite records of the year have been released in the past couple of months. So much so, that I almost feel paralyzed with choices. But for the sake of this feature, I’ll mention the one that’s received most of my attention–Jason Eady’s When the Money’s All Gone. A religious warmth informs a lot of Eady’s writing, as he explores sin (theft, betrayal, murder) and ultimately forgiveness and redemption. Download the entire record, or at the very least, download these: “God Fearing Blues,” “Cry Pretty,” and “Promises In Pieces.”
The Man I Want To Be by Chris Young
Nashville Star alum Chris Young is giving Jamey Johnson a run for his money in the race to bring traditional-sounding country music back to mainstream radio, and his album The Man I Want To Be is a more than solid example of neo-traditional country at its commercially viable best. Standouts “Gettin’ You Home,” “Rainy Night in Georgia” and “Rose in Paradise,” a duet with Willie Nelson, are worth the album price alone, but the rest of the record is strong enough to hold its own. Here’s hoping the popularity of the Little Black Dress song will pave the way for more successful singles to come.
Trailer II by Chris Knight
These were the months that will define 2009, seeing the release of excellent albums by Terri Clark, Rosanne Cash, Miranda Lambert, Adam Steffey, Patty Loveless, Claire Lynch, Radney Foster, and James Hand, plus worthy latter-day efforts from Guy Clark and Kris Kristofferson. In all the hubbub, Chris Knight’s Trailer II–which would have stolen the show in many other months–went virtually unnoticed. That’s a shame, as this second collection of Knight’s early demos makes a strong case for the unfiltered brilliance of the tough-voiced, roots-rocking Earle acolyte. Recorded in the singer’s sweltering Kentucky singlewide in the summer of 1996, the collection includes raw, impassioned performances of nine songs that would become Knight classics (“It Ain’t Easy Being Me,” “Summer of ’75”) and three others heard here for the first time (“I’ll Be There,” “Speeding Train,” “Till My Leavin’s Through”) that are every bit as good. This is sort of like hanging out at the Bristol sessions. Don’t miss it.
Revolution by Miranda Lambert
September and October were so chock-full of outstanding releases that Patty Loveless’ second roots effort Mountain Soul II dropped with hardly sound, while wonderful discs from Lorrie Morgan and Joe Nichols barely amounted to a blip on the radar. Jason Eady, The Avett Brothers and Tom Russel led the charge of left-of-center masterpieces, but the album that has stuck with me the most is the slightly more mainstream disc from Miranda Lambert. Revolution is packed with outstanding, substantive songs that continue to be satisfying after their newness wanes. While the album lacks much of the bravado that has defined Lambert’s image to date, Revolution finds an artist growing more comfortable and confident with herself, a fact which allows her to open up and lay down the finest and most emotionally compelling vocals of her career. Who cares if she’s not blowing things up when she so brilliantly connects with the nostalgic tone of “The House That Built Me,” which is, for my money, the best song of the year.
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- Juli Thanki: UPDATE: Brandy Clark got a Best New Artist nom. BEST AMERICANA ALBUM: Rosanne Cash -- The River & The Thread John Hiatt -- Terms …
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