My playlist of some of my favourite songs from 2016 (only one per album, it goes without saying many if not all these albums have more than one great song on them but … one per album). What our genre defining overlords have deemed is called “Americana” peppered with soul, blues, hip hop, rock of several stripes, gospel, “world”, some other stuff. Get it into ya.
Obligatory In Memoriam Section Since The Last In Memoriam (It Was That Kind of Year)
Upon deep reflection, I don’t have anything to say about the shocking death of Leonard Cohen. I do wish I had access to my Movable Type archives which are offline because I could just point to the various posts I’ve written about him. I’m still kind of broken up about it.
Guy Clark. Instead of Guy himself, my tribute is going to be the first Guy Clark song I heard, before I knew it was a Guy Clark song or there was a Guy Clark. The Highwaymen covered “Desperados Waiting for a Train” on their first album, a staple of my childhood and still the version in its existential bombast and mystery (Moon and Forty What???) which dominates all others I hear.
Americanafest, Nashville and Other Musical Adventures in the US
These happened and were very notable but I never blogged about them and now it’s too late. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
You can check out Rob Dickens’ recaps instead, he is the exact opposite of me in terms of indefatigable blogging virtue.
Some Great Albums!
Since I have done that mammoth Spotify list, I’ll skip going through everything notable from this year. You can read about the Lucindas and the Sturgills everywhere, below I will highlight some other faves which might not be everywhere or about which I actually have something to say beyond, “it’s cool, get it.” The below roughly approximates a top ten:
- Becky Warren – War Surplus
- Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker
- Drive By Truckers – American Band
- Paul Cauthen – My Gospel
- Mamma Coal – Raven Haired Vixen
- Teddy Thompson and Kelly Jones – Little Windows
- Margo Price – Midwest Farmer’s Daughter
- Various Artists – The Hamilton Mixtape
- Lucinda Williams – Ghosts of Highway 20
- The Blue Shadows – The Blue Shadows
Yola Carter – Orphan Country
At the aforementioned unmentioned Americanafest there were plenty of people I was interested in seeing but could not because there are generally about 20 people you want to see on at any given hour. Disappointing, but the main disappointment that has lingered was not seeing Yola Carter who played a couple of different slots, including showcases with other UK artists. She started off singing background for pop and dance artists, notably with Massive Attack before developing her own solo soul/country style. I didn’t put it on my top 10 because Orphan Country is an EP, but perhaps that is unduly rigid – it’s a beautiful, powerful set.
Becky Warren – War Surplus
War Surplus is a concept album of sorts about a veteran with PTSD and his wife, based loosely on Warren’s own experience with her ex-husband but strongly fictionalised. I came to this one late in the year (via Bitter Southerner‘s best of list) and it knocked me flat. What out of context sounds like a perfect little country drinking song takes on a new meaning in the context of the trauma the booze and bar room punch ups is masking. You’re suddenly aware of the highly unreliable narrator who says hey, it’s just a whiskey after a long day’s work … This is not a capital P Political album, a passing reference to lying politicians in as close as it gets to protest music in the classic sense. But it is something perhaps harder to do – cause you to reflect upon the serious topic of the human cost of war, but smuggled in in top shelf show-don’t-tell songwriting and memorable melodies.
Michael McDermott – Willow Springs
Michael McDermott is one who has made that well-worn trip from punk to singer-songwriter, picking up quite a following on the way for Bruce-esque soulful and earthy story songs. The following is not my fave on the record but it is the best video available and may punch you straight in the gut if you have, like Bey and the Chicks, daddy issues.
Paul Cauthen – My Gospel
The closest thing this reminds me of in spirit and general sound is Elvis’s 1970s period (my favourite Elvis period). Combining country and soul is quite the thing these days and always has the possibility of being a thing I love, but also always has the possibility of being less than the sum of either part. My Gospel is the best in the genre since Nathaniel Rateliff’s last album. And Cauthen’s honeyed twang has a outlaw country vibe which also makes it stand out from the rest of Hammond B3 pack.
Mamma Coal – Raven Haired Vixed
A reimagining of Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger but from a woman’s point of view. Despite the possibly presumptuous loftiness of that ambition, it is an intimate and obviously lovingly crafted album of gorgeous tunes (covers and originals) which really linger.
This is not from the record, but it is Mamma Coal singing a Christmas song and it is Christmas!
The Kickstarter promo for the record:
The Blue Shadows – Self-Titled
The Blue Shadows are Javier Matos up front and the mighty rhythm section of the legendary Blasters, John Bazz and Bill Batement, propelling it all along. If blues-rockabilly with a country twist is your bag, this is a great album of that. Dave Alvin guests on guitar on a couple of tracks.
Jesse Dayton – The Revealer and Brian Whelan – Sugarland
I’ve put these two together not because they have anything particular objective to link them besides perhaps a shared Austin lineage but because they share one thing in my mind: Mike Stinson! Mike is one of my favourite singer-songwriters. His claim to fame in the wider world is writing “Late Great Golden State” which Dwight covered but he has several country albums of his own and I utterly adore them all. Here’s a post I did about him. So anyway, Jesse Dayton covers Mike’s “Take Out the Trash” on this album and is always reliable for an album of sexy honky tonk Texas soul. And then at Americanafest I was astounded to see that MIKE STINSON was PLAYING DRUMS for this fella Brian Whelan. I got to say g’day to him at the bar and gush a bit. Didn’t get to see him actually sing but one day I’ll get down to Houston to do just that. And Whelan’s gig was a fun rocking show. The below song is taking the piss out of more-authentic-than-thou banjo playing americana revivalists and I am always here for that.
Music With a Message: Celestial Exploration into German Church Rock – Various Artists (Reissue)
Just what is says, collection of trippy German gospel psychadelic rock.
Kaier Kater – Nine Pin
I did manage to see Kaier Kater at Americanafest but the setting was not super-conducive – in a packed out very noisy shed while scoffing the free samples of Nashville’s signature hot fried chicken and slamming down lemonades to fight off hungover dehydration. In fact the setting was counter productive and Kaier and also Dori Freeman and bluegrass banjo virtuoso Alison Brown didn’t get the showcase they deserved. But still, we have the album which is an intense and sparsely beautiful collection of Rhiannon Giddens-meets-Gillian Welch folk tales.