Authenticity is not necessarily the sole province of the author. Rather it seems writers/composers/architects/painters perform most spectacularly in the theater of the imagination—the farther they stretch, the higher they soar. Yet I remain fixated on the authenticity of the singer-songwriter, the original artist delivering the original performance in the original package. I mock and degrade performers who re-package/re-purpose/re-gurgitate somebody else’s data. Yet the original artist can have no cleaner title to a work of fiction than any other soul who brings a performance to life.
Take me and love me if you want me
Don’t ever treat me unkind
‘Cause I had that trouble already
And it left me with a dark turn of mind.
I don’t know. The older I get the less I know. Seven years now I’ve been gone from the radio gig at KRFC-FM, doesn’t seem so long yet seems so much longer. The wonderful world of Americana has grown and matured—we even broke into the Grammy’s—yet so many disappointments—the Americana Grammy nominations have pretty much sucked wind. You will find none of this year’s Americana nods on this here Americana list, but it’s full of Bluegrass and Folk and even Country music….
People come together,
people go their own way
Love conquers few
And I’ll do whatever,
I’ll say what I need to say
Just not for you
My own personal economic restructuring continued unabated from 2010 to curtail music purchases in 2011. I did spring for the Crazy Heart DVD in the discount bin, so good things do come to those who wait. The kindness of friends and strangers keeps more music sampled online than one might expect. It’s part of the push and pull of publicity vs bread on the table we’ve danced since Minstrel days and before. I just haven’t spent the quality time with this year’s releases, as friends have noticed from the absence of record reviews on this here venue. Work and life and yes lack of funds intrudes. Oh, well, so here we go.
JC’s Top Americana (no matter what the Grammys say) Releases I’m Glad I Heard in 2011
(in alpha rather than rated order)
Alison Krauss & Union Station / Paper Airplane
Anything that Alison touches turns to gold. Robert Lee Castleman’s title track is a complicated, melancholy self-examination that seems a fitting follow-on to Castleman’s track ‘Crazy as Me’ on 2004’s Lonely Runs Both Ways and ‘The Lucky One’ on 2001’s New Favorite.
Amos Lee / Mission Bell
I almost left young Amos Lee (aka Ryan Anthony Massaro) off my ‘Americana’ list. This Blue Note release debuted at Number One on the Billboard chart, he don’t need my love. Most of the album is bluesy, funky soul that I like well enough but it’s ‘El Camino’ that kept bucking my prejudice. The man can sing.
Bearfoot / American Story
Drive-By Truckers / Go-Go Boots
The driving beat on ‘Used To Be A Cop’ has a way of climbing into the back of my skull and working its way down into my gut on the way to setting boots a-tapping. Maybe its just where I am right now but good gracious what’s left of DBT is turning out the but-for-the-grace-of-God soundtrack of my life. Go-Go Boots rock.
Gillian Welch / The Harrow & The Harvest
She kept us waiting long enough, but it’s like Gillian never left the room after 2003’s Soul Journey. Gillian is an album artist—I have my favorite tracks, but my favor expands when I play this start to finish, front to back, like we used to play old vinyl in the days it took some effort to pick and choose. And that’s the way it goes.
Matraca Berg / The Dreaming Fields
Kenny Chesney got Matraca Berg & Deana Carter a Grammy nom for ‘You & Tequila’, its Matraca’s ‘Oh Cumberland’ what brings tears to my eye. I was really excited when this talented songwriter came out of semi-retirement for her first new album in over a dozen years. She’s one of the nicest gal’s on Twitter and won’t disappoint you either.
Rodney Crowell / Free Live EP
In conjunction with his memoir Chinaberry Sidewalks—which he kicked-off with a book signing/mini-concert at the Country Bookshelf in beautiful downtown Bozeman, Montana—Crowell put out Rodney Crowell: Acoustic Trio Live, 13 tracks recorded with Will Kimbrough on tour. He also released 3 tracks as a free live E.P., including ‘Love Is All I Need’ which never fails to melt my ice cold heart.
Steve Earle / I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive
My attitude with Steve Earle is entirely “Love the sinner, hate the sin”. I dislike intensely Mr. Earle’s politics, but I do too believe in miracles. Yes, ‘God is God’ indeed and Molly O she needs all the grace we can grant.
The Tinder Box / These Winds EP
Don’t usually bother with outfits that only have an online presence at MySpace or Facebook. In this case, I make an exception based on the recommendation of my amigo, the mayor, who recommended this folk-blues Sioux Falls, SD, based trio. These guys pound a mellow yet high-energy vibe that would do any Colorado string band proud. Didn’t hurt when they through their debut EP up on the web after their summer tour wrapped. I expect to hear great things from The Tinder Box next year.
I exhausted my welcome far too long ago
Yet I’ll stick to these hardened Plains
‘Cause I think they know what I mean.
I think they understand.
Honorable Mention for 3 Special Ladies
The Greencards / The Brick Album
Strictly speaking the Greencards are a mixed gender ensemble, but it’s the female vocal that punched this album up my list—not all the way to the top but in the general vicinity. Their self-released album is good. Really good. It just didn’t fit my mood this year. My bad.
Lori McKenna / Lorraine
I wilt in front of Lori McKenna’s lilt. I know she has benefited commercially from her alliance with Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, but it takes her performance in directions that leave me cold at the same time her vocals & songwriting warms my soul. File this in the overproduced bin but worth a deep discount if you can find it.
Marybeth D’Amico / The Light Inside
Saved the best of the rest for last. Only reason Marybeth isn’t on the A-list is I never got around to getting her CD. My bad. D’Amico is a talented writer, observer and performer. I’m hoping Santa doubles back with this one in my stocking. Hey, can’t hurt to hope?